Cast: Elsie Fisher, Josh Hamilton, Emily Robinson, Catherine Oliviere
Director: Bo Burnham
Synopsis from Rotten Tomatoes: Thirteen-year-old Kayla endures the tidal wave of contemporary suburban adolescence as she makes her way through the last week of middle school–the end of her thus far disastrous eighth grade year before she begins high school.
When Hollywood makes movies about the struggle that young people go through during adolescence, they tend to make plots that are incredibly unrealistic or have characters that you would never see in an actual high school. Of the ones that stand the test of time like Superbad or The Last Picture Show, they tell a story that is so relatable with characters that you would see in your daily life, but middle school is a generally uncharted territory in movies. Eighth Grade takes that dive with first-time director Bo Burnham retelling just how terrible that time in all of our lives was. A breakout performance by Fisher and an insightful look at how dangerous the presence of social media on young people make Eighth Grade one of the most thought-provoking and original movies in years.
The movie follows Kayla (Fisher) a young, shy girl in her last week of eighth grade. As she prepares for life after middle school, she has to come to terms with her flaws and the other obstacles that come with growing up in the age of social media. One of the things this film made me very thankful for was that I was not in middle school when social media is as big as it is now. Things like YouTube and Facebook were just starting to get big when I was in middle school, so to see Kayla’s obsession with all of these people posting about how great their lives are shows us just how vulnerable we are online. In today’s society, we place our value on how many people like or comment on the things we are doing in our lives. Adding in all the changes that you undergo when in eighth grade would have absolutely destroyed many of us who went through this and really opened my eyes into the dangers of social media to our mental health. Kayla is constantly on her phone and has her own YouTube channel, and in her YouTube channel she emphasizes this point when she posts videos on giving advice on things she is terrible at like putting yourself out there and having confidence. Those scenes really highlighted how fake much of our online persona is and that the best way to avoid that feeling is to avoid social media. Outside of the social media commentary, Fisher absolutely nailed her performance as a young teenager struggling to adapt to her changing body and world. Fisher flawlessly showcases the humor, horror, and awkwardness of being that age and is relatable to anyone who was ever in her position. One scene in particular where Kayla is having a panic attack in a bathroom during a party is incredibly relatable to people who do not particularly like being in social situations and nails the feeling of discomfort they feel when placed in a situation they are unfamiliar with. One of Kayla’s lines sums up this experience perfectly when she says something to the likes of, “It’s like being in line for a roller coaster, with the feeling of butterflies in your stomach, but you never get the feeling of going on the roller coaster.” That line stuck with me for the rest of the film, and Fisher’s performance can give us those same butterflies when she goes through her many awkward encounters. These scenes are worth it though, as any of the victories that Kayla gets in the movie feel earned and engrossing, and this is one of the few films where I am actively excited when the protagonist breaks out of their shell, and this due in large part to the relatable acting of Fisher and the realistic directing and writing style of Burnham. Burnham took a stab at something truly unique with Eighth Grade and managed to deliver one of the most spectacular young adult movies of all time.
Overall, very rarely can a film capture so many unique emotions while also being incredibly understandable to a general audience, but Eighth Grade does that on a level that is not often seen. With Fisher emerging as a future star and Hamilton giving both a hilariously awkward yet emotionally heart-wrenching performance as Kayla’s father, everything about this movie feels authentic and real. Combine all of these qualities with camerawork that tells a story without saying a word through the use of zoom techniques and focusing tricks with lighting that shows us the underlying tones of a scene make Eighth Grade a movie that is just as technically beautiful as it is emotionally beautiful.
Overall Score: 10/10